"Debit or credit?" "Buy or rent?" "Paper or plastic?" Decisions, decisions. It's great to have more than one good option, but it can also provoke a lot of thought in making the right choice. Here's another decision you may one day have to face: "Save my tooth or replace it?"
It's hard to pass up replacing a tooth causing you misery, especially when the alternative is a functional and attractive dental implant. But before you do, consider this important message the American Association of Endodontists relay during Save Your Tooth Month in May: Before you part with a tooth, consider saving it as the best option for your oral health.
Even an implant, the closest dental prosthetic we now have to a real tooth, doesn't have all the advantages of the original. That's because your teeth, gums and supporting bone all make up an integrated oral system: Each component supports the other in dental function, and they all work together to fight disease.
Now, there are situations where a tooth is simply beyond help, and thus replacing it with an implant is the better course of action. But if a tooth isn't quite to that point, making the effort to preserve it is worth it for your long-term health.
A typical tooth in peril is one with advanced tooth decay. Decay begins when acid softens tooth enamel and creates a cavity. At this stage, we can often fill it with a tooth-colored filling. But if it isn't caught early, the decay can advance into the tooth's interior pulp, well below the enamel and dentin layers.
This is where things get dicey. As decay infects the pulp, it can move on through the root canals to infect the underlying bone. If this happens, you're well on your way to losing the tooth. But even if the pulp and root canals have become infected, we may still be able to save the tooth with root canal therapy.
Here's how it works: We first drill a tiny access hole into the infected tooth. Using special instruments, we remove all of the infected tissue from within the pulp chamber and root canals. After a bit of canal reshaping, we fill the now empty spaces with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. After it sets, it protects the tooth from any more infection.
Contrary to what you might think, root canals aren't painful, as your tooth and the surrounding tissue are completely anesthetized. In fact, if your tooth has been hurting, a root canal will stop the pain. Better yet, it could save a tooth that would otherwise be lost—a satisfying outcome to a wise decision.
If you would like more information about tooth decay treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
During election season, you'll often hear celebrities encouraging you to vote. But this year, Kaia Gerber, an up-and-coming model following the career path of her mother Cindy Crawford, made a unique election appeal—while getting her wisdom teeth removed.
With ice packs secured to her jaw, Gerber posted a selfie to social media right after her surgery. The caption read, “We don't need wisdom teeth to vote wisely.”
That's great advice—electing our leaders is one of the most important choices we make as a society. But Gerber's post also highlights another decision that bears careful consideration, whether or not to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Found in the very back of the mouth, wisdom teeth (or “third molars”) are usually the last of the permanent teeth to erupt between ages 17 and 25. But although their name may be a salute to coming of age, in reality wisdom teeth can be a pain. Because they're usually last to the party, they're often erupting in a jaw already crowded with teeth. Such a situation can be a recipe for numerous dental problems.
Crowded wisdom teeth may not erupt properly and remain totally or partially hidden within the gums (impaction). As such, they can impinge on and damage the roots of neighboring teeth, and can make overall hygiene more difficult, increasing the risk of dental disease. They can also help pressure other teeth out of position, resulting in an abnormal bite.
Because of this potential for problems, it's been a common practice in dentistry to remove wisdom teeth preemptively before any problems arise. As a result, wisdom teeth extractions are the top oral surgical procedure performed, with around 10 million of them removed every year.
But that practice is beginning to wane, as many dentists are now adopting more of a “wait and see” approach. If the wisdom teeth show signs of problems—impaction, tooth decay, gum disease or bite influence—removal is usually recommended. If not, though, the wisdom teeth are closely monitored during adolescence and early adulthood. If no problems develop, they may be left intact.
This approach works best if you maintain regular dental cleanings and checkups. During these visits, we'll be able to consistently evaluate the overall health of your mouth, particularly in relation to your wisdom teeth.
Just as getting information on candidates helps you decide your vote, this approach of watchful waiting can help us recommend the best course for your wisdom teeth. Whether you vote your wisdom teeth “in” or “out,” you'll be able to do it wisely.
X-rays are so interwoven into dental care that we often don't think twice about them. Even so, we shouldn't take this invisible form of radiation lightly—regular exposure at high levels can affect the human body, especially in children.
The ability of x-rays to pass through tissue greatly improves our ability to diagnose tooth decay and other dental diseases. But x-rays can also potentially harm those same tissues. Because children are more sensitive to x-ray energy, they run a greater risk for cellular damage that could lead to cancer later in life.
In reality, though, these potential risks from x-rays are extremely low—so low, in fact, dental professionals regard their use as altogether safe for children. Here's why.
The ALARA principle. Dentists and other healthcare providers perform x-ray diagnostics based on a principle known as ALARA (“As low as reasonably achievable”). This means dentists only utilize x-rays to gain the most diagnostic benefit at the lowest amounts of radiation exposure. As such, ALARA guides both the development of x-ray equipment and the protocols involved in using them.
Equipment advances. Today's x-ray devices are safer and more efficient, restricting x-ray emissions to a single beam without scattering radiation into the environment. A child's radiation exposure is further lowered with the use of digital x-rays, which produce images in less time than conventional film. Because of these and other advances, children are exposed to less radiation during x-rays than what they typically receive in a day from the outside environment.
Safe practices. Following the ALARA principle, dentists are quite conservative in their use of x-rays in children. The most common means of x-ray is the bitewing, which captures images primarily of the back teeth that are more prone to decay. Bitewings, which require a lower x-ray dosage than a full mouth x-ray, are usually spaced at least six months apart or longer depending on a child's risk for dental disease.
The efficiency of modern radiographic equipment coupled with their judicious use has drastically reduced the amount of x-ray radiation to which a child may be exposed, thus lowering their risk of future health issues. The benefit for saving a child's teeth from disease is well worth their use.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
If you think your smile is beyond hope, you might be in for a happy surprise: Today's dental cosmetics can improve even the most forlorn dental situation. It could be a one-visit tooth whitening—or a total “smile makeover.”
If it's the latter, your transformation journey could take months or even years—so you need some idea of where this journey will take you. That will come through initial discussions with your dentist about your dreams and desires for a new smile.
But you'll also need to consider what your dental condition will practically allow: Although your goal is a more attractive appearance, the higher priority is your long-term dental health. There's also cost—dental enhancements can be expensive, so you may have to adjust your dream smile to match the reality of your finances.
With the big picture in focus, the next step is to refine the details of your makeover plan. Nothing does this better—for you and your dentist—than to “see” your proposed smile ahead of time. This is possible with computer technology: Your dentist can modify a digitized photo of your face and smile to show the proposed changes to your teeth and give you a reasonable view of your future smile.
Another way is to create a “trial smile.” Using composite dental material, your dentist fashions a temporary restoration that fits over your teeth. Unlike the digitally enhanced still photo, a trial smile let's you see what your new appearance will look like while moving, talking or smiling. Although it's removed before you leave the office, you can have photos taken to show friends and family.
You and your dentist can use these methods to make adjustments to your makeover plan before applying the real enhancements. It also eliminates any unpleasant surprises after all the work is done—you'll already know what your future smile will look like.
These initial steps are just as important as the actual procedures you'll undergo. Through careful planning, you'll gain a new smile that can improve your life.
If you would like more information on smile transformations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
If you think periodontal (gum) disease is something that only happens to the other guy (or gal), you might want to reconsider. Roughly half of adults over age 30—and nearly three-quarters over 65—have had some form of gum disease.
Gum disease isn't some minor inconvenience: If not treated early, a gum infection could lead to bone and tooth loss. Because it's inflammatory in nature, it may also impact the rest of your health, making you more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
Gum disease mainly begins with dental plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces. Plaque's most notable feature, though, is as a haven for oral bacteria that can infect the gums. These bacteria use plaque as a food source, which in turn fuels their multiplication. So, the greater the plaque buildup, the higher your risk for a gum infection.
The best way to lower that risk is to reduce the population of bacteria that cause gum disease. You can do this by keeping plaque from building up by brushing and flossing every day. It's important for this to be a daily habit—missing a few days of brushing and flossing is enough for an infection to occur.
You can further reduce your disease risk by having us clean your teeth regularly. Even if you're highly proficient with daily hygiene, it's still possible to miss some plaque deposits, which can calcify over time and turn into a hardened form called tartar (or calculus). Tartar is nearly impossible to remove with brushing and flossing, but can be with special dental tools and techniques.
Even with the most diligent care, there's still a minimal risk for gum disease, especially as you get older. So, always be on the lookout for red, swollen or bleeding gums. If you see anything abnormal like this, see us as soon as possible. The sooner we diagnose and begin treating a gum infection, the better your chances it won't ultimately harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
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